Two weeks ago, I attended PolicyLink’s Equity Summit in Detroit. The summit brought together 2,500 advocates, practitioners, policymakers, and philanthropic stakeholders to advance a more inclusive policy agenda that will put our country on a path towards social and economic equity. We thought it would be helpful to share important resources and key learnings in this blog post.
A first takeaway is that we have a unique opportunity to raise up equity and inequality using the “teachable moment” of the Occupy movement. The conference dedicated some time to discussions about the Occupy movement, including having one of the Occupy leaders speak at a plenary session. Before attending the conference, I was uncertain about whether and how to utilize the Occupy movement to advance my work. At the conference, it became clearer to me that regardless of whether or not organizations affiliate with the movement, the Occupy movement provides advocates and community builders with a unique opportunity to put issues of wealth and income inequality into public discourse and demand results from policymakers to implement policies and programs that can help reduce these inequities. One speaker suggested that an op-ed was as a great way to elevate issues of inequality and the work we are doing in our communities. Andrea Levere, president of CFED, mentioned that the Occupy movement also presents an opportunity to engage financial institutions to innovate and create products that better meet the needs of low-income families.
Recently, the Census released 2010 data on a few measures of income inequality. According to this data, the top five percent of Texas households earn nearly 22 percent of the state’s overall income. In San Antonio, the top 5 percent of households earn 20.8 percent of the aggregate income pie. Midland’s top 5 percenters rank highest among Texas cities, earning more than 28 percent of their local income pie. Income inequality data points will be one of several dozen local indicators that will be available as soon as Fall 2012 with the release of our Texas Regional Opportunity Index (TROI).
Another takeaway is that integrative place-based solutions are emerging as an important strategy to help transform low-income communities and are receiving increased financial support at both the federal and local levels. To help advance this strategy, I learned that the Obama administration created a new Office of Urban Affairs in 2009, which aims to foster collaboration, better integrate local services, and encourage public-private partnerships.
Two examples of these integrative place-based solutions include HUD’s new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CN) and the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Initiative. CN provides funds for low-income communities with public housing to support large-scale community change by linking public housing improvements to a variety of other services including transportation, education and employment services. San Antonio was one of 17 cities selected nationally for the first ever CN planning grant in 2010.
The Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, which aims to scale the Harlem Children’s Zone model, provides funding to low-resourced communities to provide comprehensive supportive services to students and their families from a child’s birth to college to increase college attainment. Houston and San Antonio were two of 21 cities selected nationally for Promise Neighborhood planning grants in 2010. At the summit I spoke with Henrietta Munoz of the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County who has been involved with San Antonio’s Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods planning grants. She mentioned that through these platforms, San Antonio is bringing together many organizations and government officials who have previously never before worked together to advance large-scale community change.
A last key takeaway from the summit is that advancing a more inclusive, equitable policy agenda will become even more critical to our nation’s success as America becomes a “majority people-of-color nation,” which Policy Link projects to happen in 2042.
New Publications Mentioned at the Summit
The following are some interesting reports and publications I learned about at the conference: